Friday, March 26, 2010

America is the Queen of Excess

Yesterday I bought groceries—my first big grocery store trip since I got back.

The whole produce department reminded me of Chile. The waxed apples reminded me of the Chilean corner stores that carried the non-waxed kind. The sticks of cinnamon reminded me of Pollo's grandma who loved cinnamon in her tea. The grapes reminded me of how Pollo would buy fruit for me—a simple gesture of love. The ginger root reminded me of Kanke's tea. It must've been a sight, me holding ginger root to my cheek and muttering, "Ah, Kanke, making chai...."

But as I filled my cart with mountains of food and canned goods, I felt more and more disappointed. Where was the restrained Cathy happy with a backpack of food?

Really, the whole store was not only a reminder of how it had been in Chile, but it was also a reminder of how I had been in Chile.

Can you miss yourself even though you're always with you?

See, I feel like I lived differently in Chile. It was closer to a yoga life, more detached from material goods. I didn't have TV to remind me that I needed to look prettier or be thinner or richer. I didn't feel the desire to possess things so acutely. Here, staying detached is not so easy.

I've already gotten worked up into a frenzy of money worries—and it's not like I have a job yet or have to worry about rent. I feel more pressure with each monster house I see, all the pristine lawns and the shiny new cars. I feel it when I see $200 haircuts, highlights and nails. I feel it in the presence of TV, People magazine, and Starbucks. It is a pressure to conform and consume.

Country economies are based on consumption. The money I make freelancing is based on someone consuming something. But Americans, we take it to a whole new level. It's like having a genie in a bottle. Ask and it appears.

But we pay a price for having everything, too. Perhaps we develop a fear of losing our stuff. Or a fear of change rises within us. Or we choose not to follow our true path because we can't figure out how to maintain our stuff and our dream. The worst payment that we pay for this lifestyle is a small nagging feeling that, after all our buying and consuming, there's still something missing.

Before I left for Chile, I had that feeling. I had the $200 haircuts, a purebred dog, the cleaners, clothes shopping as a way to advance my career, a town filled with ubiquitous Hummers and Mercedes. I was happy to consume, but I couldn't get rid of that feeling. And in deciding to move to Chile, it was as if I had been running on hamster wheel, next to all the other people running on their hamster wheels and suddenly asked the forbidden question, “Why am I doing this?” And that something-is-missing feeling left and did not return until I came back here.

So the question remains, do I stay and reshape my life here? If I stay, my habits will need to change. After all, once you know, you cannot unknow. And how much do I pay attention to the advice being given to me by friends and family?

It reminds me of this quote from the movie The Secret: “When the voice and vision on the inside is more powerful, clear and loud than the opinions on the outside, you have mastered your life.”

As I try to master my life, I see that beneath the question of Chile versus America is a deeper issue: will I choose to live for others or for myself? Though I am not certain where I will live, I know one thing. I must walk my path, regardless of the opinions on the outside, regardless of how loudly their own fear speaks.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock

I was feeling pretty disconcerted and out of sorts this week. Today I read this article on Reverse Culture Shock. Now I feel relieved. Ah ha, this is why I have felt so disoriented. Just trying to find my balance after a life of earthquakes and aftershocks.

When you think about it, it's a wonder I've managed to remain relatively sane and well-adjusted. Not only am I adjusting from a foreign country of Spanish speakers where the mundane was really exciting (watch Cathy try to ask for cough syrup in Spanish!), I'm also adjusting to the city/suburb transition. For example, yesterday I went for a walk through the neighborhood. It felt like I was in a parallel universe, one where population control had gotten, well, out of control. Where were the people? Eerie--all these pretty houses and no one in them.

And since I'm having a pity party at the moment, I was just in an 8.8 earthquake three weeks ago! Oh, and don't forget that the man I love is now really, really, really far away.

Actually, now that I think about, I'm feeling really proud of myself. I survived a talk with the parents (friends, you know the kind of talk I'm talking about). I even did my taxes! And I've been earning money, too, without really marketing my writing services. Not bad for having arrived 10 days ago.

Think of that...12 days ago, I was talking in Spanish with Kanke and Javiera and two guests from Spain, eating chipatis (indian flat bread) and drinking mate (tea). I was kissing Pollo goodbye.

This week, it's Mojo Burgers and Togo's and NCIS on TV.

Both experiences, both countries are great, but this transition is like being in the shower when the water heater breaks.

I am trying my best to adjust. But please forgive me if occasionally I shiver from the cold.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sandra Bullock and Avatar

I've been the States less than a week now and last night went to a Sandra Bullock movie marathon at my brother's friend's apartment in San Francisco.

I always enjoy bonding with my bro and his friends, but I felt out of sorts, without a layer of armor. In Chile, I could hide behind my Spanish, use it as an excuse to remain outside of conversations. Here I don't need to hide.

When you're in a foreign country, you forget how easy it is to speak in your first language (or at least I did). The last month there, I had only spoken English to Javiera, and I spoke a little slower because, although she is bilingual , she doesn't get all the words.

A room full of American-born and raised English speakers! What a hidden blessing--I bet no one else in that room thought twice about how awesome it was that we were all speaking the same language!

After dinner--and conversations that included the horrors of Avatar and the strangely redeeming qualities of Showgirls and Demolition Man--Eric commented, "imagine trying to have that conversation in Spanish."

I was already trying to imagine.

My ability to participate in the raucous conversation would have been very small indeed in Spanish. Something like "I saw Avatar. I think it was pretty." The part where one of guests explained that Avatar was disturbing especially in the rape of those flying creatures by the blue creatures, my contribution in Spanish would have been "What does violar mean?" I would also have laughed at appropriate places (with a 50% chance that I actually understood what I was laughing about).

I felt at times like I was listening too attentively. I was using too much effort to understand meaning and then realizing that I didn't have to try so hard after all.

I forgot how pleasant conversations can be. I have missed my ability to engage easily in conversation. How frustrated it makes me to know that my boyfriend, the one who I have chosen as my closest confidante, still hasn't seen this part of me. He insists that he understands that I am funny, and not shy, but it's hard to believe it when I myself know that I still act a little differently when I have to speak Spanish in a crowd.

I am reminded of Woman Warrior, a memoir by Maxine Hong Kingston. I read this several times for English class in college, and I really didn't get it then. I thought I understood, but it was only in Chile, speaking Spanish that I really began to understand:

A dumbness--a shame--still cracks my voice in two, even when I want to say "hello" casually, or ask an easy question in front of the check-out counter, or ask directions of a bus driver. I stand frozen, or I hold up the line with the complete, grammatical sentence that comes squeaking out at impossible length. "What did you say?" says the cab driver, or "Speak up," so I have to perform again, only weaker the second time. A telephone call makes my throat bleed and takes up that day's courage. It spoils my day with self-disgust when I hear my broken voice come skittering out into the open. It makes people wince to hear it. I'm getting better, though. Recently I asked the postman for special-issue stamps; I've waited since childhood for postmen to give me some of their own accord. I am making progress, a little every day.

That end line is true, too. Progress occurs but the evidence appears like water creates a canyon--really, really slowly.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chile Shakes Again

Today my boyfriend sent me this Web site and told me that the earth was shaking brigido--really hard. 11 earthquakes. Of the 11, 3 were over 6.0 (one at 6.9), the rest over 5.0, 50 miles from Santiago. He was worried--it's hard to concentrate on work and a social life when the darn earth keeps moving beneath you.

It's one thing to be in a 8.8 and the aftershocks. Or to be in a 6.9 (like the Loma Prieta) and the aftershocks. But to be in an 8.8 and then 13 days later be in a 6.9 with aftershocks...well, that's something different entirely!

I guess I picked a good time to return home, however much my mind and heart still lingers there.

Talk of earthquakes has made me begin to imagine them here. Or perhaps it's like sympathy pregnancy. I feel sympathy aftershocks.

My heart goes out to Pollo and the viejas, Kanke and Javiera and their families.

All I can hope is that when the earth moves in waves there, they all get ready to surf.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Taking Care of the Hairy Homeless

A very hairy, gigantic four legged creature and his sidekick stayed in our house for a few days this week. If you haven't guessed yet, it was a Saint Bernard named Aragon and his buddy, old Gaspar, a Scottish terrier. Both lived in Constitution in my roommate's family's house.

The Saint Bernard was adorable and huge! He'd was like a gigantic furry rug that took up our entire living room floor. The Scottish Terrier, Gaspar, tolerated his surroundings with disdain. I imagined him speaking in a Scottish accent, "Not perfect, but it'll do."

The last couple of days have been interesting. Our house not only filled with dogs, but with food and clothing to be sent with my roommate to Constitution. In the end, they filled a van to the ceiling. I was so proud of her efforts. People have streamed in and out of our house this whole week bringing supplies.

Last night, they held a special Teleton on TV they had created in four days called Chile Ayuda Chile to raise money to send to the South. Lan Airlines, the president, Isabel Allende, Soprole and more donated millions of pesos...Isabel donated half a million dollars. All last night and today, we can walk into a Banco Chile or Banco Santander and donate money. I'm going to do it when I finish writing this post.

Friends from Rapa Nui landed in Chile today to start a new life in La Serena. They seem optimistic. They're staying with us till tomorrow.

Tonight a few friends are coming over for the tiniest of despedidas (goodbye party) big carretes (wild and crazy parties) this time.

I ate a copa simple yesterday at Emporio La Rosa--Miel de Ulmo y Chocolate Avellana ice cream. Honey of the Ulmo Tree and Hazelnut Chocolate. It was so good I might go there again today, although I promised myself I would go to Bravissimo and get this complicated $6 ice cream dish called Copa Dali that I said I would get before I left.

Pollo is begging me to stay and I'm begging him to not stay in Chile. I'm going to have a last dinner with the viejas on Sunday night--his grandma is cooking humitas, which you guys know as tamales.

It is a confusing time for me. I'm really sad about leaving, having dreams about teaching, along with earthquake nightmares. I am alternately sad, happy and panicked every five minutes.

My roommate Kanke arrived yesterday. I am really relieved and feel much better knowing she's home. She's also almost always cheerful, so her mood is rubbing off on mine.

Life is moving on and so is Chile.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Words of an Earthquake in Chile

When you learn a new language, you learn quickly the words that most affect you. When I first arrived, I learned all the Spanish words for vegetables because I'm a vegetarian. I also learned all the meat words so I knew what to avoid.

I learned the words of love. I learned the words related to stray dogs and pets. I learned my personal Chilean-Spanish world of words.

And now I'm learning the words of disaster, albeit unwillingly. Toca de queda (curfew) is said 50 times a day here. I learned maremoto (tsunami) and terremoto (earthquake). I learned damnificado (victim) and saqueador (looter). I now know fallecido is another word for dead.

I really, really wish I wasn't learning these words.

But despite my now sadder Spanish vocabulary and the earthquake stories that still come streaming from friends and acquaintances (one friend says her parents are from the south and lost everything), my life is strangely, oddly normal. I've been writing and editing, riding my bike, and packing my room to go home for good.

Pollo and I got into a disagreement, the first one since the earthquake. I guess the unity that fear of death brings has gone. I am embarrassed that the argument was a petty one, a kind of argument that couples have about communication. Huevas, is the name for it in Chilean Spanish. Arguing about nothing. I'm embarrassed that we argued at all. Could we not have been grateful for our lives and each other just a little bit longer?

A friend asked if the earthquake gave me a different perspective on my life. It feels like I should be more grateful. But I have been grateful since I landed here, grateful that I took a risk in my life that turned out to be one of the most valuable experiences of my life--earthquake or not. Instead of a shift in perspective, I only feel all the more certain that the choices I've made in my life are good ones. I am all the more certain that I am blessed.

Bendecida. Blessed.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Back to Normal...Almost

Life has strangely gotten back to normal for most of the population of Santiago. How quickly the people have rebounded from such a mega earthquake! The world really does keep on turning, even when you think it will stop.

When Monday morning came, my boyfriend tells me he was the only one in casual clothes. Everyone had arrived on time, dressed like normal -- Suits and ties for the management, dress shirts and blouses for the employees. The only evidence that it was not a normal day were the cracks on the floor and the toppled office supplies.

Pollo tells me that at least 4 guys he knows, instead of running to a doorframe, ran to their plasma TVs. So even among the somber faces, humor is starting to return.

I spent last night at the viejas' sixth floor apartment--the first night where none of us felt aftershocks. They served porotos--a bean and noodle dish I love. Perhaps it was a bribe to get me to spend the night, but I was more than happy to be among people I love. Their apartment is back to normal, with the addition of a few more cracks along the walls...and still without electricity.

As I went shopping for food yesterday--to several corner markets--I realized what an important role those markets will play for Santiago in the next couple of days. The sheer number of small corner markets in Santiago (practically every corner) has absorbed the panicky run on food.

I went to my corner market and saw that the soft drink and juice aisle was pitifully empty, an unpopular two or three liters of soda remained. I got the last fresh bread in the bins. Of the manufactured bread, only a loaf of Easter bread waited to be purchased. But I wasn't worried. I just got on my bike and went from market to market until I had what I needed. The Santiaguinos have done the same.

Things are so normal, that even the kids went back to school today.

But, it's not all the way normal yet.

Today my roommate asked for clothes and food to donate South. I hear also that Don Franscisco's Teleton coming soon will be to raise money to rebuild the South.

And we hear the stories of the people who drowned in the tsunami.

My other roommate Kanke comes home Thursday. She, and our friend Prema, are the last piece of my small network of friends that I have not seen. I don't think I'll feel 100% relieved until I see them face to face.

So life is back to normal for Santiago and for me...almost.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Surfing the Land

I'm not sure how I managed to luck out, once again, but I feel so lucky to be alive and to have gone through the 8.8 earthquake unscathed. Here's my account of what happened to me. It in no way resembles what happened to those in Concepcion, Talca y the coastal towns closer to the epicenter.

It was early in the morning. I had gone to bed but I woke up at 3am, restless. I was wide awake. I felt anxious but I couldn't place why I felt such stress. My Aunt Myra and Uncle Rick and I'd had a lovely meal at the Sheraton Santiago restaurant a few hours earlier. They were in Santiago for two nights and then planned to head to Vina del Mar to catch their cruise ship. I'd also had a cell phone conversation with Pollo, my boyfriend, before I'd fallen asleep. He had been anxious. He kept saying, "I feel really strange." Perhaps it was merely the stress of life that kept Pollo and I both lightly sleeping. Perhaps we sensed something coming. Whatever it was, when the earthquake hit, I was already half-awake.

The rumble came first. It is a low sound, like the rumble of an 18-wheeler or a helicopter in the distance. It is the growl of the earth, a million dogs below threatening to attack. As a Californian, I know that sound well, too well. I had been in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I was 11, earthquake phobic and skittish as a cat. I'd cried then.

This time, I was probably too calm.

Being earthquake-wisened, when the low rumble began, I reached over to turn on my light. Had I been dreaming, or was there really an earthquak? The electricity was already dead. The rumbling kept going. I reached around in the darkness for my pijama pants but couldn't find them in the pile of blankets at the foot of my bed.

As the rumbling picked up speed and volume, the sound of concrete slamming against concrete nullified my inhibitions. I swung open my door in a short tank and undies and ran to the doorframe at the front of our house. It had been the agreed upon place to be--Chileans are also earthquake savvy, and we'd already discussed the safest place: doorframe, inside away from falling tiles and electrical wires, but nowhere near glass.

The door was locked. It is one of my secret horrors--the worse scenes in horror films--when someone is being chased and all they have to do is unlock the door and they'll be saved. But they just can't get the door open...I had a moment of panic then. If only I could get the door open. But I took a deep breath and twisted the deadbolt and then opened the door wide. Javiera, my yogini roommate, was right behind me.

We stood in the doorframe bracing ourselves with our backs against the frame, facing each other. I don't know who reached out to the other first but we had a hand on each other's shoulders, as if we could keep the world from shaking if we braced ourselves well enough. I said, "It's going to be okay. It'll be okay..." to reassure us both. I thought about the Loma Prieta. I survived one, I thought. I could survive two. The sky flashed like an electrical storm, the transforms sparking. The car parked on our patio rocked as if someone were trying to tip it over, the branches on the tree bowed and swayed like invisible monkeys had come for a party. We heard several crashes in the house--glasses, vases, books, who knew--but you don't care what gets broken when the earth is moving like a see-saw. There is nothing more frightening than feeling the one thing you think you can count on--the earth you stand on--moving beneath you.

We surfed the land, Javiera and I.

Our neighbors had been having a party. They're drunken "woa's" turned from lighthearted to serious as the earthquake went on and on. I thought I heard someone begin to cry. I don't remember hearing any of the dogs in our community--they normally bark at everything. Instead, every car alarm in the city began to whine, as did the familiar sirens of ambulances and firetrucks.

Finally, what felt like a minute later, the shaking stopped. The moon was out, providing us with silver light, illuminating what had become a very dark night. However calm I had been in the doorframe, I was as equally afraid going into the depths of the house. My room is at the back of the house, where the moonlight had not reached.

First order of business was to find my cell phone and my flashlight in a room so dark I couldn't see my hand in front of me. This was when I thanked god I am so neurotic and organized. My things have "their place." The cell is always at the edge of my desk. The flashlight either on top of nightstand (because I always feel reassured having a flashlight handy) or in the nightstand. I found both quickly.

Our house smelled like rotten flowers; a vase had fallen from a bookshelf and spilled old water and moldy leaves on the dining room floor. It did not break.

A wooden statue of Don Quixote fell. It had not broken either. A thermos fell in my room. Again. In tact. A bottle of wine I had as a gift for Kanke was still upright. My lamp was upright. Nothing fell out of the bathroom vanity. Nothing happened in our house. The refrigerator contents were fine. Our wine glasses toppled in the cupboard but none of them broke or even cracked.

We turned off the gas and started using our cell phones and our land line to call friends and family.

I called Pollo immediately. His house was built in the 1800's. We had both taken a look at the back wall a week ago and had been dismayed. It was brick. Solid, but old. Pollo picked up instantly and in his panicked, fast spanish, he said he was fine. He saw the street undulate like waves in an ocean. He said that a lot of tiles had fallen in his patio but that he'd run out into the street before they fell anywhere near him. He was safe and biking to get his grandma (85 years old I think) and his mom from their sixth floor apartment five blocks away.

I managed to get through to the Sheraton and find out that Rick and Myra were safe and sitting out around the pool area. I left a message with the front desk and prayed they'd get it. I had no way of calling Rick's cell since it was an international number and I had a wimpy prepaid local cell. My land line as well wasn't equipped to call international numbers. I had been using skype this whole time but with the electricity out, our wifi was also out.

Next I tried to connect directly to the land line and use a dial up connection to get on the internet and leave a message for my parents. But try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to use a dial-up connection from Chile.

Both Javiera and I had heard from as many people as we could and then the network got jammed. The house was fine. We were fine. Our neighborhood was fine. Javiera wondered whether she still had to teach Yoga the next day. Then she looked at me, looked at the house, and said, "You know what, I'm going to try to go to sleep." We laughed and joked that "we'd see each other at the doorframe." The earthquake for us wasn't even close to what it was down south.

We had no battery-powered radio. We had no TV. My internet was down. But from our small community, we thought the whole world had remained unscathed.

I was amped with adrenaline, but I took the candles we had lit into my room, and began to read. I was speed reading, I was so jumpy. I couldn't figure out whether the writer had a stilted way of writing or whether I was incapable of reading at this point. It was me.

We felt aftershocks, silent, rolling ones that make your head swim. The silent ones make you feel like you're dreaming.

At 4:45am, Rick and Myra managed to get through to my cell. We confirmed that we were all safe. Their preferred-guest room--also on the sixth floor--ended up being the one right next to the gigantic structural crack you could see from the outside. Myra said that it felt that the building was not only swaying but twisting as if it would just rip apart. They said they'd send an email to my parents saying I was okay--they both had high-tech international palm pilots--and that they'd call again at 9am.

At 5am, Pollo called out my name from outside my window (as I was still jumpily reading my book). I ran out and we hugged each other for a long time. He couldn't stay and though I really, really wanted to have my man with me, I knew he needed to take care of his mom and grandma. They were staying in their car in the plaza near their house. They were safe. Pollo wanted to take me with him but I didn't want to leave Javiera at home alone (especially since she had managed to fall asleep). Plus, I wanted to be around for the next phone call from Rick and Myra in case they needed to dial my land line instead of the cell.

By 6am I'd managed to fall asleep, which is incredible turnaround from when I was 11 and jumping at aftershocks all night.

By 9am Rick and Myra called again. I wasn't sure what we were going to do. In my head somewhere, I thought maybe we'd still go sightseeing if things got cleared up. It still hadn't hit me what was going on, and without much information, I thought things were fine. I told them I'd bike over. I took a hot shower, ate some fruit and rode over to the Sheraton on my bike. Javiera said she was going to her parent's house.

The extent of the damage got through the fog of my brain when I saw the entire guest list of the Sheraton hotel curled up on couches and lounge chairs, sleeping and talking or watching the news. They had blankets and some were sitting on their luggage.

A security guard tried to stop me as I rolled my bike through the marble lobby littered with suitcases and strung-out guests. There was no way anyone was going to stop me from being with my aunt and uncle.

Now, my aunt and uncle are really well off. They've traveled the world and had their share of hard knocks. So I was not all that surprised that they both looked fresh despite not sleeping and ready to go play a round of golf. They were sitting out, catching some sun, both wearing stylish shorts and expensive sunglasses. I gotta say, they know how to do "earthquake survival" very well.

We sat near the pool, watching the aftershocks make ripples in the cool, blue water. Rick had managed after six trips up and down the stairs to gather all their luggage. They had packed for a 30-day cruises--tuxes, fancy dresses, the whole deal.

Both of them were coughing up black gunk from the dust they inhaled in their lungs during their tramatic experience.

Everyone was fine. Shaken up, but fine.

And so, my cush Sheraton earthquake-survival experience began. We chatted, had diet cokes and beer, free lunch and dinner buffet (and good food too!). I laid down in the grass for an hour and a half till an aftershock that lasted too long woke me up.

Wifi began working, and we Skyped my parents who had already heard about the earthquake from my younger brother who had heard about it from my older brother. They were very relieved to hear that we were all okay and together. Apparently, later, my friend Tiffany called my parents and posted a "Cathy's okay" message on Facebook (thanks Tiff).

Rick, who enjoys the title of Mr. Fix It, hatched several plans. After talking on Skype with Princess cruises, he knew the cruise was still a go. We decided that to stay at the Sheraton when I had room available at my solid "not a single crack showing after an 8.8 earthquake" house would be ridiculous. So, we waited until after the dinner buffet, gathered up all six incredibly packed and heavy suitcases of theirs, my bike and backpack, and took a van over to my house.

The lights around the city cheered us up. Some streets already had electricity back up. Some traffic lights were already working. We prayed that my house would have electricity. There was electricity up until my street. Then, we just stared at what looked like a black hole in comparison to the happy brightness of the street lamps and houses lit up on the streets we had just passed.

No matter. We lit candles, found the flashlights again, showered and went to bed. Pollo stopped by and met my aunt for the first time--what strange circumstances to meet the first of my family.

I tried to convince Pollo to bring his mom and grandma over, too. They were going to spend a second night in the plaza. I didn't have much but I had beds. Javiera was staying with her family. Lua had moved out. Kanke wasn't home. And we had an extra bed we were using as a sofa in the living room.

But the women didn't want to be far from their stuff, which was understandable.

The next day, Rick and Myra took their chances and left for the Vina del Mar Sheraton. I thought about sleeping more after they left. But as I lay in bed, I thought about friends and family who might not have heard from me. My need to communicate with the outside world overpowered my sleepiness. Pollo had power at his house, which meant he had internet too.

I biked over. I thanked my lucky stars I had purchased a bike. In this emergency, having a bike was the best mode of transportation. The metro had been shut down. Buses were infrequent. Walking was too far. I didn't have a car.

An old brick wall on the street Antonio Varas had been knocked over. Tiles littered some of the streets and sidewalks. A electric pole was leaning over. The damage to my neighborhood was minimal.

I hugged Pollo, his grandma and his mom. They looked tired and hadn't slept well in the car. I emailed my friends and watched a little of TV. A tsunami had created a lot of destruction that the original earthquake had not in the coastal towns near Concepcion. Looting had begun in those areas where the destruction was heaviest.

We went to see Pollo's best friend Edu. He, his ex-girlfriend and their son came with us to the viejas' sixth floor apartment for lunch. Spaghetti with aglio sauce, beans and cilantro, wine and soft drinks, celery, and bread. We had bought a tres leches cake for desert at one of the pastelerias that happened to be open that day. We thanked God for our good fortune. We watched Gaspar, their son, frolick, oblivious to the bleary eyed adults and the news they were hearing. We all laughed at his antics, happy for a distraction.

Despite my sleeping the night before, I was so tired. Being on edge for so long had taken it's toll on my body. After two days of not sleeping, Pollo was finally starting to feel it too. We left for my house--the best place for sleeping it seemed.

Pollo just crashed. He finally didn't have to worry about his grandma and mom for at least a little while. I rubbed his back and he fell into a deep sleep. I tried to sleep but couldn't. Someone outside was calling for Kanke but I didn't realize it until they left. Then Javiera came back, this time much more disturbed than she had been the night of the earthquake.

I got up and spoke with her. It turns out her family was in Constitution, a coastal town, 50 km from the epicenter. After the earthquake, they'd gone in two cars to their father's office building, on top of the main hill there. Everyone ran for the hill. They had all been trained that after an earthquake in Consistution, they needed to get immediately to high ground. Her family stayed in the office without electricity and no news until the morning. Then her dad drove down to try and see how their house had fared.

Their neighbor's house was just didn't exist. There house was still standing, but all of their furniture had been swept to sea--and possibly looted too--and what remained were possessions from other people. A wallet. A dress. Both their other cars were lost. When they saw how much robbing and looting was happening, they took their two remaining cars and headed back to Santiago. Javiera says they never want to return there.

Javiera said her parents in Consistution could hear the screams of campers stuck out on an island nearby as the water rose. You've probably seen the images, too--they're all from the south. A boat displaced a block into town. Whole sections nothing but mud. A new apartment building split in two as easily as splitting a piece of cake. I heard that several sections of Santiago--poorer, older sections--were more badly damaged, but I had not gone to see it.

After our nap, I suggested once again to Pollo that he bring his mom and grandma to my house, but it looked like his grandma still didn't want to be far away from her stuff. So I suggested we all stay at the six floor apartment.

We went back over there, set to stay the night. But during our dinner, an aftershock hit. We all froze and watched the lamp hanging from the ceiling swing. What would have been a small tremor on the first floor was a huge swaying on the sixth floor.

It was decided right then and there. We were heading to my house -- my solid, ground floor house with a bed in the living room, five feet away from the safest doorframe in the house.

His mom stayed in my room, Sari, his grandma stayed in the living room, Pollo and I took Kanke's room upstairs.

It was the first time Pollo and I slept in a double bed together. And we were so used to the cramped twin--and so grateful to be alive--that we slept all night holding each other close.

The next day, the electricity came back on. Pollo went to work. And I did too. I opened my laptop, like on every other day here, poured myself some tea, and sat down to write.

My mom's friend Carolyn wondered why I hadn't been speaking with CNN--this was my chance to be a journalist. But I never saw a single camera van in Santiago--after all, they go where the damage was, and my corner of Santiago was impeccable--and when it came time to go towards the damage, I only wanted to gather every one of my family and friends here and fly far away from danger.

In the end, instead of chasing a career, I only wanted to be with my people. I wanted to tell stories, sit down for a good meal, and when it came time to sleep, offer them the safe haven that my house came to be. It wasn't much, and it certainly wasn't close to what all those rescue workers have done in the south, but I did manage to give a few of my friends and family a good night's sleep when they needed it the most.